Not even the great boom sweeping the Silicon Valley, a place that thinks of itself as the capital of American success and creator of the American future, accounts for the political developments taking shape on this peninsula south of San Francisco.
President Reagan seems headed for victory here four weeks from now, but not necessarily because voters agree with the specifics of his domestic and foreign policies or his expressed conservative ideology. They don't, as they will carefully tell you when they discuss such things as the federal budget deficit, public school prayer, abortion and Soviet-American relations.
Reagan's standing is the result of a generalized feeling about the country's direction so strongly held and widely shared that it outweighs other issues troubling people.
A consensus appears to have formed around what a Democratic politician describes as Reagan's getting credit for giving people a feeling they are part of "the satisfied society."
Two other strong forces this fall, which were apparent in a week of interviewing that took place before Sunday's presidential debate, have been working in Reagan's favor:
A repudiation of the Democratic Party as it is now perceived by the voters.
A desire for political and economic stability and a hope that a second Reagan term will help bring it about.
That isn't to say that doubts and fears are absent among these voters or that everyone regards Reagan favorably. Some of them say they have never felt more frustrated, angry and alienated by what they see happening.
Transcending these factors, however, are other attitudes and beliefs so strongly held that they drive everything else before them. It is not clear that one good debate for Mondale is enough to change that.
"I've had people who worked on the nuclear initiative tell me they're going to vote for Reagan," said Ron Gonzalez, a Democrat, Sunnyvale City Council member, former mayor and professional at one of the thousands of high-tech electronics firms that give this valley its special character.
"Hey, wait a minute, people who dedicate their whole spare time on nuclear initiative stuff voting for Reagan! It seems they're more concerned that talks start than with who's in the office. Besides, people like him. And more than anything else, the bottom line is economics, the national economy. All in all, the economy's in pretty darn good shape now."
But something more than obvious approval for economic good times appears to be motivating voters interviewed in this area that spawned the computer revolution transforming American life and attracted tens of thousands of young, highly educated professionals here.
In the minds of Democrats, independents and liberals alike, this election represents a rejection of the big government, big spending, big social programs Democratic Party past they believe Walter F. Mondale has typified. More than one person interviewed called this election the last hurrah for the old Democratic Party.
"The good news is that Mondale is going to lose and we'll see the end of the traditional Democratic Party we have known," said Regis McKenna, a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has raised money for such Democrats as Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) and former California governor Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. "I see that as good because there's a whole generation of young Democratic politicians coming up that are different. The bad news is that Reagan is terrifying, and I really mean that."
A second theme, even more striking and perhaps more significant, concerns the hunger for political and economic stability after a long period of what many viewed as national instability and failure.
"What I see people out here wanting is stability," said Larry Stone, another former mayor and liberal Democrat with a successful real estate and investment business. "Not just stability of the government and the economic system, but of the political process. I don't think they realize it consciously, but subconsciously they know we haven't had a president for 25 years who has served a full two terms.
"You know, we threw the rascals out if they didn't measure up. We did it to Gerry Ford, we did it to Jimmy Carter, we did it to Richard Nixon. I think the whole political perception about that is changing now. We've gone through that and . . . the political process didn't get any better by doing that. I think the country is subconsciously in need of stability, an end to the uncertainties each time we pick or throw out another president. Let's go two terms with one individual and see what it's like."
That's not an abstract thought removed from the forming of political judgments affecting the outcome of this election. It came up repeatedly in interviews with a cross section of citizens. The most startling example came from a history professor at Cal State at Hayward across the Bay.
Richard C. Raack, 56, comes out of what he describes as a "left-liberal background." His father was a union leader in Los Angeles, and after he got his PhD from Harvard he supported such social causes as civil rights, anti-war activities and free-speech protests at Berkeley.
"Reagan was never popular with me," he said, "but on the other hand, I take back at lot of the antipathy that I had toward him when he started out as governor of California. I've been a lifelong Democrat, never voted for anyone but a Democrat. I know a lot of times I was just carrying over a whole lot of my Democratic background and academic liberalism, and not very reflectively.
"I realize now I should have voted for Reagan in 1980. I probably will vote for him in 1984. It would be an advantage for the country to have more continuity in its politics, that I'm convinced of. The present political system is just self-destructive, and if it changes again after four years we're all the more tragically caught up in instability. It's a factor in my choice, no doubt about it."
None of this kind of talk was present two years ago when this reporter last visited here, but then nothing now resembles the conditions -- economic or political -- that existed at the time. At that point Reaganomics was a dirty word. The country was gripped by the worst recession of the postwar period and its shadow even passed over the Silicon Valley. Many, like Bert Braddock, suddenly found themselves struggling to survive.
"We've been walking a tightrope on the economy," he said then. "We find ourselves doing what seems a Herculean job of survival. In the long run, maybe Reagan's program is going to work, but right now it's becoming very tenuous for all of us."
Now his multimillion-dollar electronics firm has doubled in size, with a new wing fronting on Mathilda Avenue, and Braddock looks ahead to what he hopes will be a period of economic stability and growth. Although critical of many aspects of Reagan's administration, he says he'll vote to reelect the president next month. He's hoping for better times to continue.
Here, at least, the recovery appears solid. "The valley has done its thing again," Sunnyvale City Manager Tom Lewcock said, "with production reaching all-time highs in the high-tech industries and with Lockheed getting major new defense contracts, I think largely due to the Reagan administration's defense and space buildup.
"So far this year . . . this valley's seen 45,000 more employes get hired and of course this wasn't the beginning of the boom year. Last year was. We have startling forecasts that in the next five years or so 200,000 to 250,000 more employes are going to be required to go into work in the valley. People are on an absolute spending spree . . . . It's just another paved-with-gold kind of period of time that we're going through."
Lewcock is an interesting case. He finds himself torn in this election between what he calls social liberalism and fiscal conservatism.
"I don't know which of the two I'm going to vote for, if at all. Reagan has done something, whether it just happened or he was responsible for it, in terms of getting the economy going and getting inflation down. But I see a lot of things I'm concerned about in non-economic and foreign policy areas which make me say, even if Mondale has shown himself to be a reasonably ineffective decison-maker, my vote ought to go there. Then on the third day I come out and say I'm not sure I can back either candidate because I'm not sure where it's all coming out."
He's sure of one thing, though. Even areas of the country having desperate hard times two years ago will seem better this time.
Perhaps they won't be part of the satisfied society, but they certainly will be part of a more prosperous one. And in presidential politics, prosperity is a powerful card.
NEXT: Texas and Its Valley.